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[Page 743]

My Experiences in the Mezritsh Ghetto

As told by Malka Rendel-Wagszal

Edited by N. Friedman

Translated by Jerrold Landau

I was twelve years old when the Germans entered Mezritsh at the beginning of October. Even though I did not immediately comprehend the situation and the effects it would have on my life, the environment in which I lived, especially the situation of our family, took on a different appearance: My father Avraham Yankel and my mother Tzirel lost their constant smile and sense of affability. It was as if they had become somewhat shrunken, with a cloud of terror over their faces. Every time they came in from the street, their voices and mannerisms, without words, told about the cruelty and suffering that the Jews were enduring from the Germans with the help of the Poles.

Jewish students were no longer allowed in the elementary “Powszechna” School. As I sat at home with nothing to do, I realized that our life would no longer be what it had been. Every week, the Germans began to confiscate and take things from the houses that had value to them. We were ordered to evacuate our house, as they needed it for themselves. We found a house at the other end of the city, on Lubliner Street, not far from the courtyard, and moved in.

Food and other necessities of life were lacking in the city. As a result, people began to smuggle products from other nearby cities. Of course, anyone who was caught would have the merchandise confiscated, and would be severely punished.

I was small, and did not look Jewish. When the lack in our house became worse, I decided to help with the livelihood. I transported various products between Mezritsh, Biała, and Łuków. Once, while carrying products on the train between Biała and Mezritsh, a Jew from Mezritsh, who was known as being part of the underworld, was traveling on the same wagon. Later, in the ghetto, he played a frightful role in the Jewish police, and faithfully served the Germans in annihilating his Jewish brethren.

Along the way home from the train, my mother waited for me, and took the heavy package from my hands. The [underworld] character, who had gotten off in Mezritsh, noticed this.

[Page 744]

A few days later, the gendarmes attacked our house, searched, and found the merchandise. They sent my parents and me to the commander. They took me to a special room and interrogated me: Who had given me the merchandise in Biała? I tried to tell the truth. They mercilessly beat me and I lost consciousness. My parents heard my cries. Unable to get from me what they wanted, the gendarmes tossed me to my parents, half dead. My parents took me into their arms. None of us doubted that the [underworld] character had reported us. Incidentally, he later did this openly, without shame, even to his own family members.

I do not recall the date, but this was prior to the decree of the [establishment of the] ghetto. The Germans ordered all Jews to gather in the marketplace. My parents, my younger brother, and I decided not to present ourselves. We hid in the attic of the house in which we lived. From our hiding place, we heard the running and searching of the Germans and Ukrainians, along with their shouts. They did not discover our hiding place, and they left the house. Our Christian neighbors insisted that we were in the house, and they searched again. That time, they found us.

They hauled us out of the attic and led us to the train. Dead Jews in frightful positions lay along the entire way. Poles stood around them, scraping off and removing their clothing. Some jeered over the dead bodies, sticking their walking sticks into the open mouths of the dead. The atrocities saddened my young soul.

When we arrived at the railway station, the train was already there, packed with people, sealed and locked. The train was ready to depart. It was a hot summer day, and one could hear muffled cries from the locked wagons: “Water! We are suffocating!” It seemed that the conductor of the train did not feel it worthwhile to wait for another Jewish family, and the Germans told us, “You can go back to the city.”

When we returned to our house, we found that it had been emptied of every item that had any value. This was done by our Polish neighbors. We found a large group of brush workers in a house on the other side of the street, whom the Germans

[Page 745]

had selected to remain in the city. We entered, and mixed in with them. The Germans again searched for Jews the following day. We hid under the full sacks of pig bristles, and thereby survived the first slaughter. My older brother had been taken by the Germans the previous day and sent on the train.

The remaining Jews were pushed into a ghetto, consisting of several streets and alleyways in the poor quarter of the city, surrounded by barbed wire. Anyone who exited or entered the ghetto without a special permit was warned that they would be shot. At first, the ghetto was not crowded, but the Germans soon brought Jews to the Mezritsh Ghetto from surrounding cities and villages, and even from Hungary and Czechoslovakia. The crowding was unbearable, and it was impossible to purchase food to eat. Hundreds died of hunger and from the typhus epidemic.

My parents had Christian acquaintances with whom they had business relations before the war. The Christian woman had a food store in the house in which they lived, in a Christian neighborhood at the edge of the city. In the good times, my mother had provided her with merchandise. When the Germans entered and began to confiscate valuables from the Jews, my parents brought a crate of belongings to her. When we were already in the ghetto and the hunger began to torment us, I would sneak out of the ghetto and go to this Christian family, who would give me food to bring back to our family.

A rumor spread in the ghetto that the Jews from the first deportation had not been taken to work, but rather had been killed in gas chambers. This led to the preparation of hiding places, the building of double walls in rooms, in cellars, and wherever else there might be a place to hide.

Our family succeeded in hiding in the ghetto throughout four deportations. At the fourth deportation, I was hiding separately from my family. I was with a friend who had a well-disguised bunker between the walls. We remained there for eight days without food, not knowing what was going on outside.

There was no air to breathe. We lay in a weakened state in our own filth. I could no longer hold out, and I voluntarily undertook to go out and see what was going on outside. I snuck to the place where my parents and brother had been hiding, and I found them alive. They had

[Page 746]

food. I satisfied myself and brought food to the family with whom I had been hiding. The illusion that we could survive the Germans was destroyed. We could not rely on further miracles during a future Aktion.

Good friends in the ghetto convinced my parents to send me out of the ghetto, due to my Christian appearance and good command of Polish.

One night, my mother and I went out to our Christian family. They put me in a small room with wood. They obtained a birth certificate with the name Maria Wawel. Now I had an Aryan document. The Christians then found me a position as a maid for a Polish farmer in a village not far from Mezritsh.

I worked in the house and the field. They introduced me there as a Christian orphan. I remember well the date that I went out to the village: it was May 25, 1943. One day, when I was working with the Polish family in the field, I heard a neighbor saying that the Germans had already deported the last Jews from the city. My heart stopped. I was certain that my parents were no longer here. I had an enormous desire to go to the city and find out what had happened to my parents and brother. I was unable to rest.

My hosts had a strawberry field, and went to the city a few times a week to sell their merchandise in the market. Once, I asked to bring the merchandise to sell in the city. They consented. Laden with two baskets of strawberries, I set out for the city, sold the merchandise in the market, and snuck into the ghetto. There, I found out the terrible truth - that my parents and brother had been taken to Majdanek in the last Aktion. My brother had jumped off the train and returned to the Mezritsh Ghetto. My parents were immediately sent to the gas chambers in Majdanek. I found my brother. We both decided that I should return to my hosts in the village, and he would hide in the forests. We also decided to remain in contact through our Christian friend in Mezritsh. The husband was a railway worker whose workplace was not far from the city, where he was in charge of a certain portion of the tracks. My brother would come there once in a while to get a bit of food.

I went back to the village and continued to serve the peasant family

[Page 747]

until one day I met a gentile girl on the street of the village. My heart fell. She was a classmate from the “Powszechna” School before the war. When she asked if I was Malka Wagszal, I responded that she had made a mistake, and I gave her my Aryan name. She went away but my heart palpitated with fear.

I decided to leave the village. I told my hosts that I wanted to search for my relatives who lived in Biała. I went to a Christian acquaintance in Biała with whom I had done business during the time that I smuggled. I asked her to find me a place to work as a maid with Poles. I found a place with a Polish family through a contact with a friend.

I remained there for around two months, until the German gendarmes came, took the husband to the marketplace, and hanged him publicly. He was in the Polish underground organization, and a provocateur turned him in. I could not remain there any longer. The unfortunate widow found me a place with a family of Volksdeutschen as a governess for a child, and also to do the housework. This house was on Janower Street, where German officers and functionaries lived.

Every day, I would go to a well on that street, carrying pails of water for the family for whom I worked. Standing by the well, I once saw a group of Jews walking by under German guard. They were Mezritshers whom the Germans had sent to Biała after a Selektion for work. They were held in a guarded house, and would be led to work and back every day. They recognized me. Among them was a woman who remained in the house to clean, provide water, and cook the meals for the workers. She would come to the same well for water. We communicated without words. I would place a letter in her empty pails.

I went about in threadbare clothes and barefoot. It seemed that the Jews were pained by my appearance. One day, the men at the well threw a kerchief in my pails. I found 150 zloty inside. That was a significant sum for me in those times.

I was not registered in Biała, and therefore I did not receive any food ration cards. In order to register, I had to bring a registration document from the place where I had lived previously. I did not have such a document. The manager of the house also required

[Page 748]

such a document from me. He had to present it to the authorities. I told him that I had written to my home about this, and they were sure to send it to me any day. My situation was unbearable. The manager was forced to declare that I was not living there legally. My benefactor, the Christian from Mezritsh, again helped me with this. She contacted her relatives in Biała who knew a woman officer in the city hall. One day, I had a letter from my protector in Mezritsh stating that I should go to the city hall, present myself at a [particular] window with a certain number and ask for the name of a certain woman. If it was her [at the window], I needed only to state the name of my protector. I did as told. When I said the password, the young officer did not ask any more. She gave me a small piece of paper upon which something was written, stamped with a stamp. This was a registration document.

 

Mie748.jpg
In a labor camp in Biała

 

I could not have wished for greater luck. No other dream in my life to this point was so sweet, and brought me so much happiness and grace, as that piece of paper. I could now receive my ration card and need not be afraid that the house manager would report me to the police.

[Page 749]

I remained in contact ,through letters, with my Christian acquaintances from Mezritsh the entire time. They told me that my younger brother was wandering around in the forests, hungry, barely clothed, and in constant fear of being caught at any moment. I could not calm myself. My conscience troubled me: I was under a roof, and more or less had food with which to maintain myself. I also had a proper document. And he, the unfortunate one, was tormented and uncertain about his life. Through our contact, I proposed that my brother come to Biała and join the group of surviving workers from Mezritsh.

He agreed. He succeeded in coming here. He learned, however, that there was an order to evacuate the workplace, and that the people were to be sent to a labor camp. My brother decided to go back to the forest. There, he was discovered by Poles, and they murdered him along with another Jew. This was two weeks before the liberation. The Mezritsh group in Biała was indeed sent away. After the war, I found out that they had been taken to a camp in Germany, and that they succeeded in surviving the war there.

From mouth to mouth, the Poles told about the German defeats on the battle fronts, and that the front was now not far from Lublin. The family of Volksdeutschen for whom I worked told me that they were leaving for Częstochowa, where they had lived before the war. I faced a situation of remaining without a place to live. I decided to go to Lublin. I still had a bit of money left over from the 150 zloty that my good-hearted Jewish brethren had sent me. I purchased a railway ticket and traveled to Lublin.

A railway worker was traveling in the same wagon to Lublin. We chatted. I told him that the Germans had sent my parents to a camp for Poles in the region of Lublin (such a camp indeed existed), and I was making efforts to see my parents. There was nobody in Lublin with whom I could spend a few days.

He seemed to take pity on me. I was already sixteen years old, but I looked like a child of nine. When we arrived in Lublin, the Christian [railway worker] brought me to his place, which consisted of a small room where he lived with his wife and mother. They did not have any children. They arranged a bed for me, and I slept over there. I did not close my eyes on the first night. It was terribly cold. The room was not heated. My clothing

[Page 750]

was tattered and I was barefoot. The uncertainty about what would happen the next day made me uncomfortable. I thought about my various plans.

The Christian woman [who hosted me in Lublin] was involved with business. She would obtain sausages and bread from somewhere. She cut them into slices, made sandwiches, and wrapped them in paper. She would go out at dawn, when the workers were going out to work, and sell the sandwiches. She also did business with other things. She took me along and I helped her. I did it better than she did: she appreciated my previous experience as a “business girl.” She loved me and treated me like her own child. She talked me out of going to look for my so-called parents confined at the camp. She gave me food and even bought me a dress and shoes.

The front approached, and the Russians quickly arrived. This was June 1944.

Many Poles from Lublin went to Majdanek to pillage anything that remained from the fleeing Germans. My Poles went along with them, and took me along as well. With nerves of steel, I had to avoid making it obvious what I was going through as I watched the citizens heaping the dead bodies into pits, emaciated skeletons, which, in their haste to leave, the Germans did not have time to bury or burn.

I decided to travel to Łuków and Mezritsh, hoping that perhaps someone had been saved. I told my hosts that I was travelling to my hometown. Perhaps my parents would come back from the camp. They parted from me with a heavy heart. They had treated me with love and considered me as their own child.

I remained in Łuków, where I met several Jews, including my current husband David Rendel. We went to Mezritsh together, where my charitable Christians took us in and returned to us things that my parents had left with them before they went to the ghetto. In Mezritsh, we also met several Jews who had returned from bunkers or who had survived the camps. A bit later, after the end of the war, Mezritshers who had been repatriated from Russia arrived.

From then, we began the various stages of our difficult return toward a normal, human life.


[Page 751]

Surviving the Destruction

As told by Itke Szapira-Pogozelec

Edited by G. Friedman

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Our family consisted of seven individuals: my father (Moshe Chayale's Pogozelec), my mother, my three sisters, and me[1]. The day before the Germans entered Mezritsh, my older sister Rivcha and her husband Shmuelke Altwir and child escaped to Russia. The day that the Germans entered the city was filled with terror and fear for what might come.

I was twelve years old and went to the Polish elementary school. The teachers quickly expelled the Jewish children from the school, to the delight of the Christian schoolchildren. The Germans began to confiscate the merchandise from businesses and warehouses. My father's pig bristle workshop, along with its merchandise was confiscated by the Germans, who put their sign on it. Earlier, my father had managed to hide some of the merchandise. He sold it gradually to Poles. This enabled us to maintain ourselves during the first year of the Hitlerist rule.

My father was taken by the Germans to work in highway construction. He came home every evening worn out. He could barely stand on his feet. He told us of the beatings and insults that he and the other Jews endured.

Slowly, the Germans removed the Jewish communal activists, both religious and secular, as well as householders of means. Some were tortured in various places until they died. Others disappeared and never returned to the city. Orders were given to voluntarily turn over materials and certain objects at a designated place. Then, the S.S. went from house to house conducting searches. If they found any of those types of objects, the residents would be taken out and shot next to their house.

After more than a year of occupation, posters appeared on the streets, stating that all the Jews of the city, other than those who worked for the Germans in various occupations, must gather in the marketplace. My mother had the feelings that the Germans were going to kill everyone at that time. She convinced us to not go to the gathering place. My father was certain that nothing would happen to him, and went to work as normal. He was shot along the way.

[Page 752]

We lived then on Piszczanka (Pilsudski Street), almost at the edge of the city, among Christian neighbors. The houses were surrounded by fields and meadows. I hid for a few days among the vegetation. A deathly stillness pervaded. At the end, I was overcome with weariness and entered our house. I believed that no other Jews remained in the city, but later, Jews began to appear. They reported that all the Jews of the city had gathered in the city square. From there, the Germans selected several hundred Jews who remained to work. With the exception of those several hundred, the entire group was prodded to the train, loaded onto freight wagons, and sent to the Treblinka death camp.

The remaining Jews were placed in a ghetto within the poor quarter of the city, which had been emptied. The ghetto was located between Szkolna Street and the large river from one side, and from the butcher shops to Brisker and Warszawer Streets on the other side. The ghetto was separated from the other parts of the city with a fence. Those who worked for the Germans went out every day under S.S. guard.

Anyone who held gold or jewelry could still purchase something to eat from Polish smugglers, who put themselves in danger for high prices. The majority of the ghetto dwellers suffered from hunger and from the typhus epidemic. My sister and I also became sick with typhus, but thanks to our devoted mother, who was still with us, we were returned to life.

Very often, those who went out of the city to work did not return to the ghetto in the evening. Groups were sent by the Germans from work to death. My 18-year-old sister Gittel was among them. From time to time, the Germans ordered those who were not going out to work to gather in the middle of the wide Brisker Street. Those gathered were sent to the train, never to return.

Those in the ghetto already knew that those who were taken away were sent to death camps, where they were gassed and burnt. The earlier belief that they were being taken to work had already been dispelled. People already knew that when they were being summoned to gather, it meant that they would be going to death. Therefore, many people prepared hiding places in pits, cellars, trash crates, double walls, etc. After an order to gather, people hurried

[Page 753]

to hide. The Germans went from house to house, searching and rummaging. Anyone they found would be taken out to the street and shot. My mother, my sister Nechamale, and I were hiding in an attic. Through a crack in the wall, we saw the terrible scenes as entire families who had been hiding were murdered on the spot. Each of the slaughters lasted for several days. In a neighboring hiding place, a mother strangled her three-month-old child. When the baby started to cry, she stifled it with a cushion, so that nobody would hear it. Such cases were not isolated.

When the situation calmed down, the “fortunate ones” again crawled out from their hiding places. Several hundred shadows of people, who hoped that they might survive, gathered together.

This continued until the beginning of 1943. Then, posters appeared in the ghetto that Mezritsh was to become Judenrein, and all those who remained in the ghetto, including those who worked for the Germans, must present themselves at the gathering place. Knowing that this was the end, we again tried our luck and hid in our hiding place. This time, our luck did not hold out. We were discovered and taken to Brisker Street, where the last residents of the ghetto were gathered. The Germans again selected a small group of a few tens of Jews from the crowd to remain in the ghetto. The rest, including us, were sent to the train. Those who could not keep up with the speed imposed by the S.S. were taken from the row and shot on the spot. This is what happened as well to the young children: they were murdered in their mothers' arms.

Packed like herring in a barrel – without air, without water, we traveled for a day and a night, and arrived at Majdanek. When they opened the door of the cars, half of the transport had suffocated. My dear mother was among them.

They had left my sister Nechamale in the ghetto to work. A few weeks later, the small number of those who had remained in the ghetto were sent to Majdanek. My sister did not arrive. She was certainly killed in the interim.

In Majdanek, the children were separated from the adults. I was already sixteen years old, and placed among the adults and those of healthy appearance. We were led to the camp. The children and emaciated adults went to the gas chamber.

I was in Majdanek for three months. Every day at dawn, we were summoned

[Page 754]

to a roll call. The healthy ones were selected for work, and the weak ones were sent to be gassed. The work consisted of hauling heavy rocks from one end of a field to the other, and then doing the same in reverse. The senseless torment of the starving, weakened people was carried out by sadistic S.S. women. If any of us carried a rock that was too small or did not run fast enough with the rock, they would mercilessly beat the person and incite their bloodhound, who would tear their bodies apart. They would incite the dog with the words: “Juda – get the dog!”

We would get a bit of watery soup and a morsel of bread once a day. There were 10,000 women in the camp, all Jewish. One day, there was an announcement that 1,000 women would be send away to another camp. The entire camp presented themselves. I was selected to go to the new camp. They stripped us naked, searched our private body parts, and also used xFs-ray instruments. They sent us out to Skarżysko-Kamienna, where there were ammunition factories that operated day and night without stop. I spent a year there, working under terrible conditions. People died from hunger and epidemics. They conducted Selektions from time to time, and the sick were killed. We were 600 women housed in a single barrack.

From there, they later sent us to Częstochowa, also to an ammunition factory. People fell like flies. The S.S. supervisors beat us with deathly beatings. They terribly tortured anyone whom they did not like. They had a special place, called “Warta” which they used for torture. If one emerged from there, one no longer had the possibility of living.

A few times, I was on the list of those to be shot. However, the supervisor said that he must have me for work, so my death was deferred until later. I became sick a few times, but I went out to work even with high fever, holding myself up with my last strength. Becoming sick meant being shot.

The camp was liquidated on January 15, 1945, when the Russian front approached. We were sent to Bergen-Belsen in Germany. A small number went into hiding when they sent us away. Częstochowa was captured by the Russians the next day, and they were liberated.

I spent one month in Bergen-Belsen. There, they

[Page 755]

tortured us with hunger and beatings. Shootings and gassings took place. We were not given any work. The Germans already foresaw the day of their defeat, and took their sorrows out upon us. We were summoned for punitive roll calls, being held naked in the greatest cold. My feet froze during the roll calls, and I suffer from the effects to this day.

Finally, we left Bergen-Belsen. We were sent to the Burgau labor camp. We were worked hard there. We were not given any food at all. There were no barracks. They held us in pits in the ground, which had previously been used for storing potatoes in the winter. We were sent to Türkheim a month later. The few who survived died en masse from hunger and typhus.

The Americans entered Türkheim on April 27, 1945, and we were liberated. We were held there for a little while by the JOINT[2] and UNRA[3].

When I look back at the past, I cannot believe that I was able to survive that frightful hell and emerge alive. However, those who survive will never forget and will never forgive the Germans for what they did to our people.


Editor's Footnotes:

  1. The total number of family members mentioned totals 6, at odds with the number 7 given by the author. We've decided to leave this ambiguity as is. return
  2. JOINT – refers to the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), founded in 1914 originally to help Jews in Palestine under Ottoman rule, and was deeply involved in the post-WWII rescue of Holocaust survivors. For more information, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Jewish_Joint_Distribution_Committee return
  3. UNRA – refers to the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. For more information, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Nations_Relief_and_Rehabilitation_Administration return


[Page 756]

Attempts at an Anti-Hitlerist Resistance Movement

by Henryk Rilski (Ch. Rubinstein) of Rehovot

Translated by Jerrold Landau

In the quarterly publication Pages of History by the Jewish Historical Institute of Poland, Warsaw, July-December 1955, Volume 8, numbers 3-4, H. Rilski (Rubinstein) of Mezritsh (today a history teacher in a high school in Rehovot) published his memoirs under the title “Mezritsh During the Period of the Hitlerist Occupation.” The chapter which we are including here is a part of that work. The author gave it to us to publish in February 1976 with minor improvements and changes, made by himself alone.

The editors

At the beginning of the Hitler occupation, there was already a group of well-known people who stood against the mood of oppression and resignation that was pervasive among the Jewish population. The soul of that group was the pre-war worker and cultural activist from Mezritsh, Moshe Wajman, who was blinded by a contusion during wartime operations. People would gather at his home during the evenings. He would summarize the press and radio news, clarify the political and military situation, and simultaneously unmask the role of the Judenrat and the Jewish police. Friends gathered around him and would then disseminate [the information] among the Mezritsh Jewish population.

After the Hitlerist attack on the Soviet Union, the aforementioned group, headed by Wajman, disseminated the deep belief that the German offensive must be disrupted, that the victory of the Soviet army along with the allies was inevitable, and that Hitlerist fascism must suffer a final defeat. Under the influence of Moshe Wajman, the first thoughts of an organized resistance to fight the occupiers arose among those who used to come to him. However, that concept could not take concrete form, for the first liquidation Aktion was quick in coming. The Hitlerists perpetrated it in August 1942.

During that Aktion,

[Page 757]

approximately 13,000 Jews were deported from Mezritsh. Moshe Wajman was among them.

 

Mie757.jpg
Moshe Wajman

 

The idea of a resistance was taken up after the first Aktion by two youths: Ozer Plastersztajn, a member of Hashomer Hatzair, and Chaim Czusz. It was decided to create a group with armed units of five. The group quickly numbered forty men, and consisted primarily of former members of the youth movements, mainly Hashomer Hatzair. One of the activists of that group was the young brush worker Leibel Goldberg, who was given the task of obtaining weapons from Biała Podlaska. He obtained the weapons from the Jews who worked there at sorting weapons for the Wenecia firm. Aside from starting to collect weapons, the group also prepared Aryan documents (identity cards), so that they could send people to the Aryan side if necessary, and also to be able to maintain contact with the Jewish fighting organization in Warsaw.

At the beginning of October 1942, both organizers, Plastersztajn and Czusz, were arrested. There was a suspicion that this took place due to an order from the contact person who used to come to them from Warsaw. They were taken to Radzyn, and were shot by the guards along the way. The young jurist Shmuel Bojgman, the son of the Hitachdut activist Herzl Bojgman, a graduate of the Jewish gymnaszja and long-time Maccabee activist, was also killed in connection with the arrest of Plastersztajn and Czusz.

Shmuel Bojgman had been the leader of the Jewish postal service in the ghetto. All correspondence with Jews, to Jews, and from Jews was separate, since Jews had no right to use the general postal service. A single person as put in charge of taking care of postal matters – Shmuel Bojgman. His job was carried out with intelligence and trust, and was

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appreciated by the entire Jewish population. At the time of the arrest of Plastersztajn and Czusz, one of them had an envelope with photographs of approximately twenty people for which they were to produce “Aryan documents.” When they went to the pharmacy of the Judenrat chairman Klarberg during the investigation, one of them discreetly placed the envelope with the photographs on the floor. Shmuel Bojgman, who incidentally was in the pharmacy at that time, picked up the envelope and hid it in his pocket. Bojgman destroyed the envelope when he got home. The Gestapo found out about this and arrested Bojgman. He did not cave in to the torture and did not turn in anyone. He was killed in the Gestapo cellars in Radzyn. The largest portion of Plastersztajn's and Czusz' group were killed during the second liquidation in October 1942.

 

Mie758.jpg
Shmuel Bojgman

 

Aside from the aforementioned initiative to create an armed resistance group against the occupiers, there were other attempts to resist the occupiers with weapons in hand. An armed fighting group arose in the area of the village of Szachy near Mezritsh, under the leadership of Elia Gutenberg, a member of Hechalutz. It existed for almost an entire year, and was liquidated by an N. S. Z. unit[1] in the summer of 1943.

Smaller armed fighting groups, which survived the occupation in partisan fighting units, maintained themselves in the forests near Mezritsh, especially in the areas of the villages of Derewiczna, Nahajik, and Drelów. The young brush worker Chaim Grynbaum, Hershel Bojmgarten, and the aforementioned Leibel Goldberg with his father Avraham belonged to one of those groups. Other members of that group were shot by the Germans. Chaim Grynbaum and Hershel Bojmgarten were turned in to the gendarmes by the Jewish policeman Ljubicz (not a Mezritsher) when they entered the city seeking bread for their group. In the forests near

[Page 759]

the village of Jelnica, the former brush worker Feivel Agrestbojm and Petachya Goldsztajn created an armed group of Jews from Mezritsh and other places. That group was also turned in by the Jewish police and killed by the German gendarmes.

In the year 1942, an armed fighting group was formed, composed of Czech Jews and Yeshiva students who held the belief that G-d would help them in an armed fight against the occupiers. There were also many cases of individual heroic acts of self-sacrifice. The Jewish policeman Sh. G. was shot in the ghetto. This was one of the most serious attacks, in which many Jews participated. In July 1943, three Schupo agents were shot by Jews.

 

Mie759.jpg
Leibel Goldberg

 

The former Poalei Zion activists Yaakov Manperl and Munia Sucharczok, who had worked in a brush factory, attacked German soldiers who had entered the factory to carry out an Aktion in May 1943. They forcibly removed the Germans' guns and wounded two Schupo people. Yaakov Manperl was shot and Munia Sucharczok succeeded in escaping. The young brush worker Chaim Poga attacked S.S. men in the Jewish cemetery during the fifth Aktion, and showered them with curses. He fell on the spot, impaled by the lances of the Hitlerist bandits.

A certain Yeshiva lad, Yosef Chaim Liberman, encountered a sealed wagon that was traveling to Majdanek. Under a volley of bullets, he opened the door of the wagon from the outside, allowing many people to jump off the moving train and escape.

In the arena of political-cultural work, whose objective was the dissemination of the idea of anti-Hitlerist resistance, the left leaning graduate of the Jewish gymnaszja

[Page 760]

of Mezritsh, Shulamit Wajner, played an honorable role. She conducted school courses for Jewish children until the end of 1942. Aside from teaching subjects, she also conducted political educational work of an anti-Hitlerist nature. She taught the children anti-Hitlerist songs and texts, and inculcated in them the belief in the inevitable defeat of Hitlerism. She conducted an entire series of children's performances in which she smuggled in anti-Hitlerist programmes. She herself also wrote a brazen song, which called for a struggle against the occupier. Soly Wajner maintained contact with the organizers of armed resistance – with Ozer Plastersztajn and Chaim Czusz. Soly Wajner was taken to the Trawniki Camp near Lublin[2] in December 1942. She was killed in Majdanek in 1943.

 

Mie760.jpg
Shulamit Wajner

 

All the aforementioned attempts at resistance bore no great results, aside from their effect on morale. The greatest percentage of Mezritsh youth, former members and activists of the Jewish youth organizations, left Mezritsh after the city fell into Hitlerist hands. The city lacked the activist kernel that could concentrate the fragmented forces. The initiators of armed resistance were not successful in connecting with partisan divisions in the neighboring regions, due to their quick arrest. This had an effect on the fate of the resistance movement in Mezritsh.

After the complete liquidation of the Jewish community of Mezritsh , only about 100 Jews who were hiding with peasants or living with Aryan documents in Warsaw and other cities remained. The group of nine individuals (five men and four women) under the leadership of Leibel Goldberg, deserves special mention. That group hid in the city center of Mezritsh itself

[Page 761]

in the attic of the former Sobelman Hotel, situated near the German gendarmerie. They survived in that hiding place until liberation. The members of that group would sneak to neighboring villages where they obtained products from the local peasants.

Several tens of Jews returned to Mezritsh from the concentration camps after the liberation. The greatest number of them consisted of those who had been sent to Majdanek during the fifth and sixth Aktions of May 1943, and were sent on to various other camps from there.


Szejndel Cemny

by Henryk Rilski (Ch. Rubinstein) of Rehovot

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Szejndel was born in Mezritsh in 1917. Her father was a painter. At the age of 13, she was already forced to give tutoring lessons to pay her tuition in the gymnaszja and also to help support the large family.

 

Mie761.jpg
Szejndel Cemny

 

After completing gymnaszja in 1945, she left for Warsaw. Her difficult material situation did not permit her to continue studying. She graduated in childhood education and worked in children's colonies. She also found time for work supporting political prisoners in Poland.

The outbreak of the war in 1939 found Szejndel in Mezritsh. In the brief period that the Soviet military was in Podlasie, Szejndel was active in the school system of Mezritsh. After the retreat of the Soviet Army, she moved to Lwów with her husband. There, she completed medical nursing courses. In 1940, a daughter was born to her.

After the invasion of the Soviet Union by the Germans in 1941, she did not take the opportunity to evacuate with her daughter to the

[Page 762]

internal regions of Russia. Together with her husband, she remained under the German occupation, with the aim of helping to organize partisan and diversion work against the occupier.

In the autumn of 1941, Szejndel came to Warsaw to help her husband, an activist in the underground movement, and later in the Armia Ludowa[3].

When the Warsaw Ghetto uprising broke out in 1943, she separated from her two-year-old daughter, who was given over to her husband's family, and placed herself at the disposition of the Armia Ludowa.

Along with a group of six members – three men and three women – she was sent by Lieutenant Senk-Molecki to the Wilk Division, which operated in the Wyszkow Forests. She was the medical nurse of the division, and displayed self-sacrifice.

In August 1943, she came to Warsaw to transport weapons for the newly planned operations of the battalion. Only thanks to her self-control and energy did she avoid a mishap: the Gestapo was carrying out a search of the main railway station in Warsaw at that time. She returned to the battalion in peace and immersed herself in her work with redoubled energy. She strengthened the morale of the comrades with news that she brought from Warsaw about the regular defeats of the Germans on the fronts.

The battalion strengthened its activities. It bombed German trains and automobiles. It liquidated weapon stockpiles. It conducted regular attacks on the German battalions and patrols. Szejndel organized the sanitary services in the field hospital. Every wounded and sick fighter found warmth and a comforting word.

In the spring of 1944, the German Oberkommand special forces set out to liquidate the partisan movement in the Wyszkow Forests. The unequal battle lasted for several weeks. At that time, Szejndel died a heroic death in battle. She missed the threshold of liberation, as it was a few months before the final defeat of the Hitlerist enemy.

[Page 736]

At the Ruins of the Mezritsh Ghetto

 

Mie763a.jpg
This was the house of Abale Perlsztajn near the synagogue

 

Mie763b.jpg
The place where the Great Synagogue stood. In front was the Large Beis Midrash

[Page 764]

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Translator's and Editor's Footnotes

  1. N.S.Z - Narodowe Siły Zbrojne (National Armed Forces) return
  2. Trawniki Camp - For further information, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trawniki_concentration_camp return
  3. Armia Ludowa - People's Army. return


 

[Page 765]

Mezritsh in 1946

by L. Frydman

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Fate brought me back to Mezritsh in July 1946, two years after the Soviet Army drove out the Germans from there.

I traveled to my hometown with mixed feeling of hope and despair. I knew that none of my relatives were there anymore. I hoped, however, to refresh my memory of the thousands of details that were connected with the life of one who had been born in that city and who had lived there for many years. On the other hand, I was afraid of the hollowness and destruction that I would find there.

These were times of unrest. Bands and remnants of the A.K. Army[1] were still hiding in the forests. They would attack trains, take Jews off, and shoot them. Szaniawy near Mezritsh was such a terrible place; the train had been stopped by the bands several times already. Traveling on the Warsaw-Brisk line was a constant danger for Jews.

I traveled to Warsaw on a warm, summer night and passed peacefully through the Szaniawy station in the early morning. The train hurried on and I waited with a palpitating heart for the next station. The familiar places began to be seen – the Wyatrak, the Zamdn, Potocki Park, and then the Mezritsh station.

The train station building was recognizable. The only change was a glass hall, built in front of the station, from which one could see the entire railway platform from inside.

As I got off the train, I could see a new building that I did not recognize. I later found out that this was the building where the German railway gendarmerie had been located.

Only Christians got off the train, peasants for the most part, with the products that they carried in sacks and packs. Together with the acquaintance who accompanied me on the journey, I walked along Zauberman's garden. I entered the city on a new, short path which the Germans had built, I assume with Jewish hands. This was right behind the Parkirewa Stream.

I arrived at Lubliner street. Recognizable houses remained in their places, however, they appeared abandoned and orphaned. There were broken windows, broken plaster, and pieces of roof had been ripped-off.

[Page 766]

And there stood the market. It was huge, because the row of shops in the middle had been removed. The shops around the market were still closed. It was very early, and the city was still asleep.

Automatically, I went to the house in which I had been born and where I spent my childhood. There it was. It stood intact; only here and there had something been changed. A bricked-over window, a broken fence. Despite the changes, the house was not unfamiliar to me. I felt toward that house a closeness; like something that was mine, with which I had lived in close contact for years. I entered the corridor, and the smell of strangeness and staleness hit me in the face. I ran up the steps in a single breath and was standing by the door of my home. Strange voices from inside wafted toward me. I stood there ready to knock on the door, but my hands fell down, and I quickly ran out. I did not look at it anymore. I no longer wanted to see the place of my birth.

The day began to start. The residents began to appear on the streets and in the market. I looked at them. All were Christians that were unknown [to me]. They emerged from houses that I recognized. They opened the shops that I recognized, but I did not know any of them. From where had they come?

I walked in the direction of the synagogue, where I hoped to find Jews. There was the large Beis Midrash. It stood empty and abandoned. The windows appeared as cavernous holes. The entrance door was bricked over. I looked for the synagogue that had stood opposite, but I could not find it. An empty lot stood in the place where it had been located, overgrown with thick grass. This meant that the synagogue was no more. It had disappeared. I understood – the Germans had burnt it down or dismantled it with Jewish hands.

I walked a few steps in the direction of Brisker Street. An empty field, overgrown with grass, lay before me. Szmulowizna had once been there – the tens of curvy alleyways with crooked huts, where hundreds of brush workers and tradesmen had lived, worked, dreamed and struggled for a better tomorrow.

Szmulowizna was no more. There were no more Jewish brush makers… A large field with paved pathways here and there lay spread out before my eyes. From afar, I saw the houses of Stołpno and the forests along the Bialer Highway.

As I later found out, the Mezritsh Ghetto had been located in Szmulowizna. After the Jews were murdered, the Poles removed the houses and hauled away anything that had been left behind.

[Page 767]

I turned back toward the city. In the market, near Sobelman's Hotel, I met a few Jews. From them, I learned the first details about the surviving Jews, and how current Jewish life in Mezritsh was arranged. The gathering place of the remaining Jews of Mezritsh was in Sobelman's Hotel and the building in which the Jewish community organization had once been housed. The Jewish committee was located in that corner. A Jewish brush-making cooperative operated there. The Mezritsh Jews who miraculously survived, and those who came to take a look at their hometown, lived there temporarily. Anyone who had a bit of inheritance sold it to the gentiles for a trifle, sighed over the destruction, and left the town.

Jews whom I knew came out: Diszel had been a forest man. He wandered over the forests during the days, but did not spend the night there, approaching that which he had left behind; Gershon and Leibel Reichman, who hid between two doors in their house for several years; Leibel Goldman, who hid in an attic in the middle of the city with a group of eight other people; Cheitsha and Estushia Bronsztajn, who had returned from concentration camps; Chatzkel Sztajn and Tzvia Sapir, also returned from concentration camps. Other Mezritshers came out, who had survived through various means. From them I found out details of the unbelievable pain and suffering that my hometown had endured during the past four years.

I sat and listened to them as they told the same details three or four times over. I did not interrupt them. I wanted to know everything. I sat shiva for my relatives, for my city and home.

I took a pen and wrote. I wrote the journal of the destruction of my hometown, which was annihilated and will never revive.


Editor's Notes

  1. A.K. Army – Armia Krajowa – Home Army. For more information, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Home_Army return

 

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